Will not interfere with farmers’ protest which should be allowed without impediment: Supreme Court

By: |
December 17, 2020 10:28 PM

The apex court, which put a sole caveat that there should not be any breach of peace either by farmers or police, also mooted an idea of putting on hold the implementation of the laws to enable negotiations with the agitating farmers which was opposed by the Centre saying agriculturists would then not come forward for the talks.

The bench said in its bid to resolve the impasse over the three contentitious agri laws, it wanted to set up of an "impartial and independent" panel of agriculture experts and farmer unions. (Reuters/File Photo)

Farmers agitation should be allowed to continue “without impediment” and this court will not “interfere” with it as the right to protest is a fundamental right, the Supreme Court Thursday said on the ongoing stir of agriculturists on Delhi borders.

The apex court, which put a sole caveat that there should not be any breach of peace either by farmers or police, also mooted an idea of putting on hold the implementation of the laws to enable negotiations with the agitating farmers which was opposed by the Centre saying agriculturists would then not come forward for the talks.

The top court was told by Attorney General K K Venugopal that he would get back after taking instructions on the suggestions.

While Acknowledging the right to non-violent protest of farmers, the apex court was also of the view that the farmers’ right to protest should not infringe the fundamental rights of others to move freely and in getting essential food and other supplies as right to protest cannot mean blockade of the entire city.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde, which said it was worried with the way things are going on, was told by both the Centre and one of the farmers union that the negotiations are not happening at the moment.

The bench said in its bid to resolve the impasse over the three contentitious agri laws, it wanted to set up of an “impartial and independent” panel of agriculture experts and farmer unions.

However, it held it back as farmers unions, impleaded as parties by it on Wednesday, could not appear to give their views.

In order to bring about an effective solution to the present stalemate between the protesters and the Government of India, we consider it appropriate in the interests of justice to constitute a Committee consisting of independent and impartial persons including experts in the field of Agriculture for the purpose.

“This may not be possible without hearing all the necessary parties. Till the parties come before us, it would be advisable to obtain suggestions about the constitution of the said Committee from all the parties which may be submitted by them on the date of next hearing in the matter,” said the bench which also comprised justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

Senior lawyer Harish Salve, appearing for one of the parties, raised the issue of two million people of Delhi NCR facing serious difficulties due to the ongoing stir as it is seriously inhibiting the supply of essential goods to the city because of restrictions on the free movement of goods vehicles.

It was also alleged that the protest will result in a sharp increase in the prices of goods which would be difficult for people to bear in these times of pandemic.

Taking note of the submission, the bench said in its order “We clarify that this court will not interfere with the protest in question. Indeed the right to protest is part of a fundamental right and can as a matter of fact, be exercised subject to public order. There can certainly be no impediment in the exercise of such rights as long as it is non-violent and does not result in damage to the life and properties of other citizens and is in accordance with law.

“We are of the view at this stage that the farmers’ protest should be allowed to continue without impediment and without any breach of peace either by the protesters or the police.”

While putting the pleas for hearing after winter break, the apex court asked the petitioners seeking removal of the protesting farmers, to serve copies of the petitions to the farmers’ bodies and gave the liberty to come to the court even during the vacation.

“The pendency of these matters will not prevent the parties from resolving the issue amicably,” it said.

During the hearing, it made clear that the issue of farmers’ protest and the right to move freely of others would be dealt on priority and not the validity of laws at the moment.

On being told that the negotiations are not happening at the moment, it said farmers cannot keep on protesting without talking to the government.

“You continue the protest. You have the right. But you have a purpose also and that purpose is served only if you talk, discuss and reach a conclusion,” it said.

“We are worried about the plight of farmers. We are also Indian but we are worried with the way things are going on,” it said. and added “they (protesting farmers) are not a mob.”

During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, the bench observed that it recognises the farmers’ right to protest but this right should not infringe the fundamental rights of others to move freely and in getting essential food and other supplies.’

Maintaining that in a democracy, police and authorities have to be given power to prevent the protestors from infringing the rights of others, the bench said “Who will take guarantee that if farmers are allowed to enter the city in such high numbers, they will not resort to violence?

“Court cannot guarantee this. Court does not have the wherewithal to prevent any such violence. It has to be the police and other authorities who will protect the right of others,” the bench said, adding that right to protest cannot mean blockade of the entire city.

The top court told Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu) group, which was the only farmer organisation represented before the court today through lawyer A P Singh, that they cannot keep on protesting without talking to the government.

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